The Meaning of Memorial Day

The history. One of the most meaningful American holidays was declared by President Lyndon Johnson back in May 1966 as Decoration Day. Well, that’s what it was originally called. However, today we know it as Memorial Day. A day where Americans remember all of those who have died in service of our great United States of America. If you do some research, there are approximately two dozen towns and cities that have claimed to be where Memorial Day was birthed. Though Waterloo, New York was where the official birthplace was declared, it is difficult to prove irrefutably what the origin of Memorial Day is. What is unquestionable, is the level of pride that is sensed nationwide on this day as Americans gather to remember those who have fought for the United States and with much honor, lost their lives doing so.

Despite what the exact location or date of its origins may be, what is very clear is that Memorial Day was born because of our yearning to honor our soldiers who died during the Civil War. In his General Order No. 11, the national commander, John Logan, from the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed the day on May 5 th, 1868. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he stated. The reason why “Decoration Day” was selected was because that particular date was not the anniversary of any specific battle.

On the very first Memorial Day, General James Garfield delivered a speech at Arlington National Cemetery where approximately 5,000 people decorated the graves of the nearly 20,000 Confederate and Union soldiers that were buried there.

New York was the first state that formally acknowledged Memorial Day in 1873. The northern states then accepted it later on in 1890. Though, the Southern states refused to accept Memorial Day as a holiday because they honored their fallen soldiers on separate days until World War I. After World War I, the day was transformed from honoring those who died in combat during the Civil War to honoring Americans who died in combat during any war.

Today, we observe Memorial Day in nearly every state in the month of May (on the last Monday) with Congressional passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90-363) . This now guaranteed a three day weekend for the Federal holidays, although various southern states have an extra day for honoring those who died during the Confederate War. For Texas, the additional date is January 19 th; In Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi it’s April 26 th. South Carolina observes on May 10 th, Tennessee and Louisiana on June 3rd.

“In Flanders Fields.” American professor and humanitarian Moina Michael from Georgia thought of the idea of utilizing poppies as the representation of remembrance for all who served our nation during war. She led the way by being the very first person to wear one and then sold them to her co-workers and friends. Moina donated the proceeds from her poppies sales to benefit servicemen who were in need. Later on, Madam Guerin of France, learned of the new custom while visiting the U.S. and upon return to France, she too made red poppies and raised money for children who were orphaned in the war, and the women who were widowed. The tradition spread to several other countries and in 1921 Franco-American Children’s League sold them nationally to benefit orphans of Belgium and France. Approximately a year later the league disbanded, and Guerin sought backing from the VFW.

Right before Memorial Day 1922, the VFW became the first veteran’s organization that sold poppies nationally. Then in 1948 the U.S. Post Office honored Moina for her role in founding the National Poppy movement and designed a red three-cent postage stamp with her picture on it.

The following poem that was written by Moina was inspired as a response to the poem “In Flanders Field.”

“We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grown on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.” – Moina Michael

Moment of remembrance. It was back in December of 2000 when the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was sanctioned. The resolution states that at 3:00 p.m. all Americans stop what they are doing and take a moment of silence and listen to “Taps.” By doing so, we are paying respect in a personalized form and using the moment to remember all of those who died for our nation during times of war. 

15th May 2019

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